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New Parents and Mental Health: Supporting Your Employees through the Most Common Complications of Pregnancy and Childbirth

Having a baby is undoubtedly one of the happiest moments one can experience. Movies, social media, and society all paint a beautiful picture of parenthood and flood us with images of happy families, smiling babies, and feeling “#blessed”. But society neglects to share some of the real (and often raw and complex) aspects of pregnancy and parenthood; leading employers and employees to overlook complications that can go undetected or hidden out of shame.

As a mother, a mental health therapist, and a survivor of postpartum depression (now more commonly referred to as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders or PMADs), even I was previously unaware that PMAD’s are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth1. Then after childbirth, up to 1 in 5 moms2 and 1 in 10 dads3 suffer from a mental health condition within the first year. Suicide and overdose are the leading causes of death in the first year postpartum for new moms, with 100% of these deaths deemed preventable.4, 5, 6

Add on the increased stress of the past year which has certainly taken its toll. In 2020, the rates of PMAD’s in women went up to 36% (an increase from 10-15%)7. One study found most women (86%) reported being somewhat or very worried about COVID-19. Women also reported worries related to pregnancy and delivery in the context of the pandemic (59%), the baby contracting COVID-19 (59%), not having a support person during delivery (55%), and COVID-19 causing changes to the delivery plan (41%)8

While all of these numbers seem alarming, employers have a real opportunity to help their new parent population by increasing their awareness of PMAD’s and promoting access to resources to help struggling moms and dads.

What employers should know:

  • All parents, including fathers, can experience changes in mood when there is a new baby in the household.
  • Post-adoption depression is also relatively common, affecting 10% to 32% of adoptive parents.9
  • 75% of women experiencing maternal mental health challenges do not get the care needed for recovery.10
  • Women of color and those who are economically disadvantaged, are several times more likely to suffer from PMADs, and less likely to receive care.11, 12

What can employers do?

Promote in your EAP: Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has resources to support mental health and the transition to parenthood. Many EAP services include childcare consultations, eldercare resources, and free counseling sessions all designed to support work and life for employees and their families.

Gather and communicate other free resources: Organizations such as Postpartum Support International offers free resources such as online support groups, a helpline, peer mentor groups, educational resources, and more for moms, dads, partners, and families https://www.postpartum.net/. Additional resources for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, (BIPOC) families can be found at https://www.mmhla.org/resources-for-women-families/.

Increase awareness and show your support: Anti-stigma campaigns and maternal mental health awareness campaigns can help employees identify the symptoms early on and feel that is more acceptable to ask for help. Check out organizations like the Blue Dot Project to help raise awareness of maternal mental health disorders and combat stigma and shame https://www.thebluedotproject.org/

Offer paid maternity and parental leaves: Paid maternity leave is associated with beneficial effects on the mental health of mothers and children, including a decrease in PMADs and intimate partner violence, and improved infant attachment and child development.13

Understand accommodations: An employee struggling with mental health symptoms can still be productive at work, but they may need some accommodations to help, especially if he or she needs time off for doctor appointments, counseling, etc. The Job Accommodation Network has dozens of accommodations that can be used to help those struggling with perinatal depression or anxiety: https://askjan.org/articles/Postpartum-Depression.cfm?csSearch=3334776_1

Messaging from the top: Powerful messages from executive leaders have a trickle-down effect on managers and employees. Talking about the importance of supporting the mental health of your working parents and sharing what you commit to doing sends a message that this is a priority.

Grassroots efforts: Identify employees who can champion support for parents. Encourage them to create internal social networks or employee resource groups for this population.

Training for managers: It’s becoming more common for managers to be trained in mental health first aid. And equally important for them to know the difference in risk factors and signs of PMADs in men and women.

It’s imperative for employers and employees to note that PMADs are temporary and treatable. With proper care and support, new parents can overcome these setbacks and thrive both as parents and as employees. Working parents deserve to feel valued, fulfilled, and included at work.  Supporting their mental health and wellbeing helps manage healthcare costs, attract and retain talent, and supports DE&I efforts, which will benefit both your employees and your bottom line.

 

References:

1) Toohey, J. (2012, December). Depression during pregnancy and postpartum. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22828111/.

2) U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, November). ACOG Committee Opinion No. 757: Screening for Perinatal Depression. Obstetrics and gynecology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30629567/.

3) James F. Paulson, P. D. (2010, May 19). Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/185905?redirect=true.

4) Goldman-Mellor, S., & Margerison, C. E. (2019, June 4). Maternal drug-related death and suicide are leading causes of postpartum death in California. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002937819307471.

5) Metz TD; Rovner P; Hoffman MC; Allshouse AA; Beckwith KM; Binswanger IA; (2016, December). Maternal Deaths From Suicide and Overdose in Colorado, 2004-2012. Obstetrics and gynecology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27824771/.

6) Pregnancy-Related Deaths: Data from 14 U.S. Maternal ... (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/erase-mm/MMR-Data-Brief_2019-h.pdf.

7) Liu, C. H., Erdei, C., & Mittal, L. (2020, November 4). Risk factors for depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms in perinatal women during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Psychiatry Research. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178120332133.

8) Basu A; Kim et al; (2021, April 21). A cross-national study of factors associated with women's perinatal mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. PloS one. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33882096/.

9) Foli, K. J., South, S. C., Lim, E., & Jarnecke, A. M. (2016, August). Post-adoption depression: Parental classes of depressive symptoms across time. Journal of affective disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4887416/.

10) Byatt N; Levin LL; Ziedonis D; Moore Simas TA; Allison J; (2015, November). Enhancing Participation in Depression Care in Outpatient Perinatal Care Settings: A Systematic Review. Obstetrics and gynecology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26444130/.

11) Goyal, D., Gay, C., & Lee, K. A. (2010). How much does low socioeconomic status increase the risk of prenatal and postpartum depressive symptoms in first-time mothers? Women's health issues : official publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835803/.

12) Kozhimannil, K. B., Trinacty, C. M., Busch, A. B., Huskamp, H. A., & Adams, A. S. (2011, June). Racial and ethnic disparities in postpartum depression care among low-income women. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733216/.

13) Psychiatry, F. the D. of. (2020). The Impact of Paid Maternity Leave on the Mental and... : Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. https://journals.lww.com/hrpjournal/Abstract/2020/03000/The_Impact_of_Paid_Maternity_Leave_on_the_Mental.5.aspx.

 

About BenefitBump

With a vision of family-friendly workplaces where employer and family goals are achieved in harmony, BenefitBump is dedicated to optimizing the use and satisfaction with employee benefits, time off programs, and resources for growing families. We offer a personalized, holistic approach that is emotionally-health centered, which helps employees feel valued, included, and fulfilled at work. For more information, please visit https://www.benefitbump.com/.